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This game seems such a part of my gaming history that I feel like I have to share this story. Its a long read but maybe it'll be interesting to people who also grew up with this game.
I first read about Body Harvest in 1996 or 1997 in N64 Magazine. This was an independent magazine published in the UK. It was easily the best of the 3 or 4 magazines that were published about the N64 at the time. If you don't know it, I highly recommend reading it on the Internet Archive as they wrote many humorous articles and reviews throughout the years. They hyped the game a lot throughout its development, and it seemed amazing. When it was finally released they gave it a very high score (90% I seem to recall) and even printed a game guide. They often printed game guides for games and attached them to the magazine covers. I believe this game guide is actually official and was written by DMA staff. Which is why it contains several errors, due to content being changed after the guide was written. For example they wrote that you could get an alien tank in America, when you actually get the UFO. It was also covered in the Official Nintendo Magazine, in the UK. Which had pretty poor reviews, they seemingly never gave a game less that 70%, and never wrote more than 1000 words about games. But the huge pictures and concept art that they printed just looked so cool to a 90's kid who was just getting into horror.
After reading these amazing reviews, 9 year old me was desperate to play this game. The idea of a huge open world with numerous vehicles you could drive around in was mind blowing at the time. The concept of having to save people from aliens that would constantly beaming down to eat them alive also seemed amazing. I still love the onscreen “human bar”, which shows you how many people have died. Many games at the time restricted you to a linear set route, the idea of a whole city being in a game was tantalizing. When my birthday rolled around in December, I wrote “Body Harvest” on the top of wish list for Santa. Of course when my mum read the hideous title she was pretty shocked. She is a regular Church of England mum, probably as a result of seeing the Exorcist when it first came out she hates violent games and horror movies. It wasn't the first time I'd asked for a violent game. The Christmas before I had asked for Golden Eye. I had told my mum that I wanted Mission Impossible and explained about how you could tranquillize guards rather than kill them. I then changed my mind after reading reviews and hearing that Golden Eye was far better. My mum got the two titles confused and then spent the next year watching me jiggling the bloodied bodies of guards with assault rifles in Golden Eye. So after that my mum totally refused to buy Body Harvest, and I think I ended up getting Mario Kart or something. All I could do was read that game guide for years imaging what it must be like to play such an amazingly open world game.
Later when I was older, my Dad bought me the game, clearly forgetting what my mum had said about it. It was amazing to finally get to play it and try all of the vehicles. Several things shocked me, the draw distance was tiny and it was a pretty foggy game. This was par for the course on N64 games though so it wasn't a big deal back then. It really added to horrific atmosphere. I was blown away by the detail in the manual and all the colour pictures, which were most likely left over from all the ambitious plans DMA had for the game. The music was, and still is fantastic. The piano driven score by Stuart Ross and Allan Walker really nails the feeling of being alone in a doomed world, miles from salvation, with the threat of being attacked at any time constantly on your mind. It is a desperate and haunting sound track which I think few horror games have matched even today.
Another surprising thing was the game's difficulty. I had never played such a hard game before, with the exception of Rogue Squadron. As such, I was unprepared for how difficult it would be. I was constantly falling in water and drowning, sliding into level geometry, having my vehicle blow up right in the middle of a harvesting wave, accidentally rolling my only vehicle into water, or running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere and having to run for miles back to the nearest village. One of the biggest stumbling points is the inability to save often. Which usually means that after playing for an hour, and dying on the boss means starting all over from the beginning. It truly is the sort of game that AVGN will cover some day. Every death was excruciatingly painful but every bit of progress felt so awesome. This didn't put me off, I tried my hardest and eventually got Java stage 2. Where I gave up. My motivation and energy exhausted.
I put my N64 away to play my GameCube and later the Wii. But I never forgot about Body Harvest. After I graduated from Secondary School (British High School) in 2008, I took a year off, not knowing what to do with my life. I felt a bit depressed and not having a job, I mostly stayed at home playing video games. Naturally, for comfort, I went back to playing the games of my youth. I was trying to recapture that magical feeling of being young and free, in a time of uncertainty and loneliness. I took up the challenge of trying to finish Body Harvest again. When I reached America 2 I was completely annihilated again and again by the start of the level. You are forced out of your vehicle and have to slowly run miles (tens of minutes) through a mountain range on foot until you reach a town. Whereupon you have to fight a harvester wave of burrowing grabroids. My poor N64 was often so overheated that it would repeatedly crash and lock up, losing me hours of progress.
My friends would occasionally drop in on me to see if I was still alive, as I wasn't going out much at this point. Whenever they came over they would groan in despair to see that I was still playing Body Harvest. They could not bear to watch me play a game with such terrible graphics and slow game play. Since I only had one TV and I could not turn the game off until I saved, they were often forced to watch me play for a hour before I died to some random glitch blowing up the essential vehicle I needed to survive. While they sympathized with my challenge to beat the game, they quickly got tired of it. My obsession with playing obscure kusoge, rather than fun modern games became a running joke in our group. They were already fed up of me speed running Golden Eye and trying to complete the NES version of Ghosts n' Goblins. They could appreciate the technical achievement that Body Harvest is, but had zero interest in playing such a buggy mess.
It was a long time before I could break though that area and complete the rest of America. All in all I was disappointed by America, it did not feel like the real city that 9 year old me had hoped for. There were so many ugly grey walls and sewer areas everywhere. I was so excited to play Siberia, which seemed like a much darker and more realistic area than America. After ten years, I was finally going to get to drive a combine harvester and mow down zombies just like the title hinted at. With joy I watched the Alpha 1 touch down in the green foggy blackness of Siberia 1991. But my joy vanished in an instant and was replaced with despair when the game flashed up a message;
Well done, trooper! You saved Earth's past from the alien threat. Now return to the past to free the future and become a HERO! Good luck!
Siberia faded away and to my horror the title screen flashed up. The game was over. All my effort was for nothing. I could not continue. My friends were hardly surprised when I told them the sad news. “That's what you get for a playing such a s*** old game!” I remember them saying. My heart was broken.
It wasn't the first time a game had done this to me. Castlevania 64 also has a similar feature. If you play the game on easy mode you can only play the first half of the game. But both Body Harvest and Castlevania are not easy even on easy mode! I believe this feature was removed for the American release of Body Harvest and you are able to play the whole game on easy mode. But for us Europeans there may as well only be Hero mode.
Sufficed to say I put the game way again at this point. But it remained lingering in my mind for years. An unfinished game, laughing at me, challenging me to try and beat it again. I went to University and said goodbye to my N64. Over the years I tired to emulate Body Harvest to give it the beating it deserved but I was thwarted by the fact that it is one of the few N64 games that cannot be properly emulated. I remember the shock and despair of getting all the way to Greece 2 and falling through the stairs to the boat house, meaning that I could not get the boat and finish the stage. After I graduated from University I moved back into my parents cold uninsulated house for two years. These two years became known as the N64 Depression Years amongst my friends. All three of us were unemployed, unable to even get cleaning jobs because we had degrees, but no working experience to get actual jobs. This meant we were stuck, hanging out at my place playing old PS2 and N64 games, the only games we could afford on job seekers allowance.
Much to my friend's consternation I started playing Body Harvest again. I flew through Greece, having played it over and over again so many times as a child. The only part I briefly got stuck on was the area with the timed flying section at the end. Using a biplane you have to fly half way across the map and stop some flying aliens from blowing up a bus load of people. Messing up here sucks because you have to play the whole level over, and the player is still getting used to flying a plane for the first time. It is so easy to accidental fly your plane into a mountain in the fog whilst trying to dog fight, and then you are royally screwed. I remember having to watch that cut scene of Dark Adam blowing up the bridge and one of the two statues turning so often as child because of this. It made me hate Dark Adam even more.
Java also proved to be easier than I remember. As a child I believe I suffered too much because I drove the cars too roughly. I realized that a slower and more careful approach to driving, one that takes into account the wonky physics of the game is more successful. Java stage two particularly stands out for the part where you have to save a boat load of humans whilst navigating a river during a volcanic eruption. That stage is just so long, including the part where you have to drive over an alien infested mountain range. Messing up and losing concentration for just ten seconds means losing an hour of your life every time. Your patience is rewarded however, by the next stage, where you fly a helicopter over the mountains in a fierce thunderstorm. Bloody epic. I believe I got lucky on America, and passed through the dreaded foot section with almost no problems. I had terrible flashbacks to my N64 crashing but perhaps the years of rest gave it the energy it needed to keep the frame rate chugging on. (I have read recently that the frame rate of the PAL copy is 16% slower than the US version. There is a noticeable difference to the frame rate if you kill all the enemies before moving on, rather than just running away. This is perhaps the cause of the crashes I experienced.)
I think the DMA gods were smiling on me, as I was soon once again watching the Alpha 1 touch down in the black wasteland that is supposed to be Siberia. Three years after being scolded by the game and sent back to the start, and almost 14 years from the game being released, I finally got to run over zombies with the combine harvester. It was truly a dream come true. My joy was only slightly reduced by the fact that after 14 years of graphical progress it looked like total dog s***. Still it was everything my 9 year old self was looking forward to. Sadly I was once again shedding blood sweat and tears in vain. Siberia stage one proved to be a very difficult first level and I was already burnt out from playing most of the game. I died over and over on the part right at the end of the hour long level, where Black Adam steals a train. Whilst being attacked by enemies, you have very little time to catch up to the train and destroy it before he rams it into a nuclear power zombifying most of the population of a small village. With an aching heart I pretty much gave up.
In 2015 I moved to Japan and started a family leaving all my gaming stuff behind. I bought an N64 and began playing all the games that I had seen in magazines as a child but could not play because they never left Japan. Sadly I discovered Body Harvest had never been released here. Most probably because it was not an RPG and DMA had fallen foul of Nintendo. It seemed less and less likely that I would ever finish Body Harvest, and even less likely that I would ever stop thinking about the damn game. In 2018 I went back to the UK for one last holiday before my wife had our first baby. I knew this was probably my only chance to beat the bloody game. I only had about three evenings free, the rest of my time was obviously spent with my family. But in those evenings, despite being horrifically jet-lagged, I played like a mad man. Having watched some of Marshmellow's and MIKEakaBILL's runs of the game I had learned a lot about the game mechanics and where I could save time. This time I vowed to give the game a coup-de grace!
I flew nealy 10,000 km back to the UK, pulled my N64 out of a dusty draw and booted up my now 9 year old save file. In time since I had last played, I had become interested in more difficult games. I greatly enjoyed the souls series, and my friends and I would often challenge each other to beat those games without leveling up. I had also become part of the STG/Shmup community and was somewhat used to the immense difficulty of those games. However, Body Harvest's 20 year old rock hard phalanx of bad controls, buggy physics, slow movement speed, and regular enemies with insta-kill attacks would shock me all over again. After dying again and again on the first level of Siberia, I attempted to use a speedrun glitch to skip the first stage. Near to the start of the stage is a small mountain range, unlike most mountains in the game that cause you to slide down (usually into water to your death) this one can actually be run over on foot. Which puts you right next to the stage boss. However after beating the boss and moving on I found I had soft locked the game, as the next events would not trigger. After an hour, I gave up and restarted from the beginning miraculously clearly the first and second stages as you are supposed to. I then got stuck on the SCUD launcher section. Even if you go slowly and clear all the enemies between you and the target, you still have to 1: land the missile correctly, 2: have a back up vehicle to ensure you don't get killed by the enemies which spawn on your when you land the missile, and 3: then ensure that vehicle has a enough health to kill the boss. Wearily, after eight straight hours of playing, and with the help of the very same game guide that I had got from N64 magazine 20 years ago, I cleared Siberia. My family had all fallen asleep watching some dull Christmas movies in the room next door. I was too tired to be triumphant and too jet lagged to raise a cheer, but smiled quietly. I had finally arrived at the last level, the Comet. I was totally unprepared for what I was about to face the next day.
The next day my friend invited me to his house to play video games. We hadn't had a chance to play video games together in over four years. But I quickly informed him that I only had two evenings left to complete Body Harvest once and for all. He read my message. Then some minutes later he replied
“omg. We can spend some time on Body Harvest. Not too much time though. Because. My sanity. You gotta beat it in front of me. THE GAME I mean.”
I could feel his resistance. Now I felt not only pressure to beat the game, but to beat in front of an audience (the game I mean.) Like it was 1999 all over again, I put some N64 games in a plastic bag, and took the train to my friend's house. Worried that bashing the cartridge too much would some how erase my save data I put Body Harvest in my pocket. At my friends house I watched him try to speedrun Majora's Mask in three days, a tough challenge in its own right. It seemed as though the N64 Depression years had come back to haunt us. Although this time we welcomed them like an old comfy blanket. Then we put Body Harvest in and he watched as I died over and over again. On the comet you pilot Alpha 1, a hovercraft, fully equipped with all the best weapons in the game. But it controls like a bar of soap on ice, and the comet it is a hellish red and blue desert full of exploding fish. Much to the disappointment of me and my friend I could barely get out of the first valley alive. “Jesus H. Truly this game is the real hell.” was all my friend could say. I said goodbye to my friend, not knowing when, or if I would see him again. I trudged back to the train station, feeling like my whole life was encapsulated by the failure of being unable to finish a s***ty 20 year old game. Standing on the dark platform, I suddenly had the horrible fear that I would get mugged and someone would steal my priceless (to me) copy of the game. To them it would be a worthless s*** game for a console they had probably never heard of, but to me it would a disappointing end to a nearly 20 year journey. Luckily I made it safely home, but I only had one day of my vacation left. In less than 48 hours I would be flying half way around the world back to Japan, where I would have to put video games behind me, to “grow up and become dad.”
I knew that beating the whole stage in one evening was probably impossible, since this game always seems to be waiting for you to let your guard down before it throws brick walls made entirely of concentrated pain at you. But I also had an ace up my sleeve. Today was my birthday. Using all the goodwill that a birthday can give you I asked my family, if I could just stay at home and play some N64 for the day. They groaned, and accepted, I was birthday boy after all. So I, a 30 year old married man, about to be a father, sat down and played N64 games on my birthday, just like 9 year old me would have done.
My fears about the difficulty of the comet were completely vindicated when I was unable to even complete the first stage by lunch time. Nearly everywhere you move on the stage causes more enemies to spawn, until the frame rate dies and you are blown to bits by flying enemies you cannot even see. The time pressure started getting to me and I, a now 30 year old man, punched the floor in anger because of a N64 game. Why people do such idiotic things when they are angry will never be understood, even the most easy going of us are likely to do dumb things like this. My friend, a 28 year old at the time, broke his bedroom door off its hinges after repeatedly failing to clear the original arcade version of Gradius in one credit. I punched the floor pretty hard and turned pale when I heard my knuckles crack. Knowing I had done something shameful, I ignored it and carried on playing. But within minutes I felt as though I had broken the metacarpus of my small finger. I carried on playing but my hand started swelling up and I felt a dull pain whenever I pushed the buttons. I pressed on, insistent that not glitches, not family obligations and not even a broken hand would stop me from beating this game now. (Please don't be like me.)
Using some ticks I had seen in speedruns I used the insane physics recoil that occurs when you fire some of Alpha 1's weapons to jump over some of the mountains and bypass most of the enemies in stage 1 and then the entirety of the stage 2. Although that was pretty much cheating, at that point I did not care. In our time together, the game had showed me no mercy and now I returned the favour. Even doing those speedrun strats was not easy and took me at least an hour to get them to work. Finally I was at the last boss, only Black Adam was standing in the way of finishing the game once and for all. We were about to fight to the death, or so the game thought.
When the fight starts Black Adam is standing in the centre of the stage, when you approach he jumps into his own Alpha 1, and then later on, transforms into a giant scorpion. He has several very damaging attacks, spawns strong enemies and you are trying to fight him in a hovercraft that goes all over the place and can barely do a simple u-turn. By this point I only had a few hours left before I had to start packing my bag for my flight the next day, so I had no intention of fighting this bastard one on one. Instead I did another speed run strat I had seen in MIKEakaBILL's runs of the game. I reversed Alpha 1 at high-speed whilst firing its cannon's, jumping out at the last minute as it hit the boss fight trigger. In the cut scene Alpha 1 suddenly launched into the screen and hit Black Adam as he ran away, killing him instantly and ending the fight before it even began. It is perhaps one of the most amazing glitches I have ever seen, and I applaud the person who discovered it. They have my eternal thanks.
With that, the game was finally over. The curse had been broken. 20 years after the game was released, 9 years after the N64 Depression years, and 2 years after the events of the game are supposed to have taken place (time travel in the year 2016?!) my painful journey was over. Here for posterity I will post my score.
Total Time: 6:10:47
Humans lost: 42
Artifacts: 0 of 12
I had to laugh at the total time taken, since in reality, besides not counting the number of times I had to reload a save, it could also not take into account the years I had spent thinking about trying to get to this point. I hadn't bothered to try and collect all the alien artefacts, and I had no idea when and where the 42 humans had died. But an end screen is an end screen. I texted my friend a photo of the end screen. He replied “What does this MEAN for your life now!”. He was right, truly a new era had dawned in my gaming career. The post Body Harvest era.
I flew back to Japan the next day, still high on a victory only I could really appreciate. Fortunately my hand was not broken, although it did hurt for a while, a reminder of my pyrrhic victory. Three months later my daughter was born.
It was certainly interesting to find out that this board had maintained a loyal following throughout the years, right up until 2006, almost ten years after this strange obscure game had been released. It's also shocking for me to see people sink so much time into speedrunning this game and finding new techniques, because it is hard enough to play this game as it was intended! Let alone trying to break it by trying to run up every vertical wall in the massive game worlds. What the human mind finds engaging, and limits of human patience really are amazing.
So why was I so driven to finish this game, and why do I still think about it all the time to the extent that I wrote a nearly 5000 word post about it? It is interesting to look at as one of the last purely British made games, especially as it was made in Scotland. As someone who lives in Japan I can really understand how difficult it must have been for DMA to deal with Japanese ways of working. For me, only one other modern game, Pathologic, has rivalled it in terms of difficulty. I could write another 5000 word post about my ten year struggle to bear that game. But Pathologic and Body Harvest have some similarities. You are alone in a huge world, you can barely run, music is chilling, the graphics are alienating, and there many many ways to die. I think that, for everyone there is one piece of art, be it a book, game, movie or album that is special for them. It may be a complete turd to others, but you, and only you, can see something special in it. For me the haunting quality of the music in Body Harvest and the feeling of fighting in a doomed situation captivated me. I wanted to see and know everything about it.
Objectively, I don't think Body Harvest is a great game, and I can't ever see it being remade. But it accompanied me in a difficult time in my life. I could escape being unemployed and depressed and go to a world where with a bit or luck and effort, I might just be able to save a few people.
My friend, Ben, or Blinge as he is known online would like me to point out a few things. He was supportive of my quest the whole time. During the evening we spent at his house, he was looking up walk throughs and let's plays, and trying to guide me through the level.
Sorry mate! Thanks for the support!
Hey. I don't really have anything of substance to add but I wanted to say that that was a fantastic read. Write-ups and personal stories such as these are what keep me coming back to this website. I like to do that myself with the more obscure games I complete, although you've gone far above and beyond what I usually write here. :)
So thank you for sharing all of that.
Here and now!
Thanks for the reply! I'm glad someone has read my giant wall of text! I wrote it for people such as yourself!
I will have a look at some of your posts! I too love personal stories, so I wanted to share mine :)
@MrCokeacola what is this Based demonic story?!
tl;dr probs something about personalized copies. @EvilResident
"GameFAQs isn't going to be merged in with GameSpot or any other site. We're not going to strip out the soul of the site." ~ CJayC
TLDR: I finished the PAL version of Body Harvest on Hero mode after trying off and on for 20 years.
tl;dr probs something about personalized copies. @EvilResident
Yeah my copy was personalized with malicious game freezing gremlins.
My Body Harvest struggle: https://tinyurl.com/yxsplsqg